The days of designing static brand guidelines are fading. A brand needs to be created to allow it to adapt in an ever-evolving digital marketing landscape to keep up with the customers needs.
What is ‘Agile’ Branding?
Agile branding is the art of quickly creating and improving your brand and positioning so you can iterate and adjust to your marketing. Just like UX and lean startup methods. But it’s not about scrums, stand-ups, and user interviews – like in agile UX and software development – it’s about adopting the mindset of a customer-centred, agile approach into all of your brand and marketing activities.
A brand is also defined by the experience your audience has with your product or service, and the promises you make. Creating a brand follows a process that brings meaning, clarity and coherence to the perception a person has with a brand – from the messaging through to the visual experience.
What is ‘Lean’ UX?
At the core, UX (User Experience) is understanding your audience, their needs and what they desire. Lean UX builds on an iterative and agile approach that includes design thinking. As a UX designer you’re always receiving feedback, collaborating and turning those insights into new prototypes to build better user journeys and experiences.
When you’re starting out on a new venture, creating a new service or product you may feel the need to map out every step and follow a detailed roadmap in advance, especially for large software or website projects. But when it comes to branding, you need to be nimble and fit the needs of your customer. There can be real value in going for a more agile and adaptable approach in building your brand.
Learning from each other
Let’s say you work in an organisation with a strong UX culture, like a start-up, or a technology firm. You may have great UX researchers and developers who follow the lean, agile approach – you’ll benefit from design and brand thinking.
And the opposite is true if you work in a brand & advertising agency, or a design studio with award-winning creativity and design – you’ll be able to benefit from UX thinking, and a more human-centred, empathetic mindset.
This empathetic, agile mindset of testing things quickly, delivering customer value, and learning from your mistakes will be similar if you work either in a large or small organisation.
How to create an Agile Brand
To create and build an agile brand you need to look at how a brand designer works when they are actually doing the job of creating a new brand.
Rather than just designing the logo, I look at the creation of a brand as three core elements; the strategy, the messaging or tone of voice, and the visual design. You can be prototyping, improving and iterating all three of these brand elements together.
1. Agile brand strategy
When creating a brand strategy, it needs to be direct and simple enough to make decisions and steer your business brand in the right direction. Most traditional companies create detailed and complicated strategies, trying to cover every eventuality, but by they time have implemented anything, their audience has moved on and they’ll have to start again.
To stay up to date, your brand strategy needs to be able to adapt quickly in the face of your customers needs. To keep it simple, an agile brand strategy only needs to answer three focus questions:
- Who are your ideal customers or clients?
- What pain do you solve for them (or what’s their heaven and hell)?
- How are you different from your competitors?
And as you monitor the performance of your initial marketing campaigns and take in customer feedback, these answers may change on a weekly or monthly basis.
2. Agile brand messaging
As you learn from your ongoing customer feedback, over time, you may need to change the way you describe your business. Your messaging and brand stories should also be evolving and not stick too rigidly to your brand.
Yes, you should have a set of professionally written ‘boilerplate’ copy templates, like descriptors, logo tag-lines, and short paragraphs that describe you and speak to your ideal audience. Elements can be used by you and your team to be applied across your marketing campaigns. But with agile approaches to copywriting, you can test the effectiveness of different pieces of copy and improve it as you go.
3. Agile brand design
Your visual appearance as a brand can be just as lean, agile and adaptable as any other part of your strategy. It can seem like the least agile part of a brand, but with the dominance of digital communication, you can constantly be improving and refining your brand’s visual design.
One side of the issue is that most companies don’t see the value of investing in good quality design over the long-term.
The other issue is that brand designers have been far too willing to sell their services as one-off projects instead of going for monthly retainers to help grow and refine their clients brand as stewards.
Designing a professional logo has become a dark art. It can take a long time to create something truly unique that it is impossible to imagine quick, small, agile improvements to a company’s logo over time.
But take a look at Starbucks logo over the years – or BP, Apple or the Clarks logo from the UK – these examples show that refining and adapting logos can help streamline a brand, attract attention and appeal to the consumers needs over time.
The value of investing in design
The challenge for a startup is simply to accelerate this process and to be willing to make changes faster to improve the brand. But most startups and growing businesses are unwilling to invest in a professional visual design.
Most misunderstand what design really is. Of course, their is a need for a startup to employ a skilled developer to build and continually improve their product, but it seems over-the-top for them to take on a graphic designer to design and be continually improving their brand.
A McKinsey 2018 report, ‘The Business Value of Design‘ conducted research on 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period in multiple countries and industries, and collected financial data and recorded more than 100,000 design actions.
It found that these companies that implemented good design outperformed their competitors and increased their revenues and total returns to shareholders by 32% over the five years. Substantially faster than their industry counterparts.
This shows that good design matters whether your company focuses on physical goods, digital products or services.
To sum it all up, the key to agile branding is a combination of user-centred design, along with clear strategy and messaging that speaks to your audience. This will help guide all aspects of your decision making in marketing, product and customer experience.
And ultimately increase revenue and profits.